Felt Data Map titled It's Not Eden But Not The End with water, sun, storm clouds and a frog

It’s Not Eden But Not The End

Felt Data Map by students at the Lakes School

Yesterday I updated the graphs that had informed the stories printed out by Future Machine, at the Lakes School in Cumbria and in Finsbury Park in London in Autumn 2022. I discovered that this was the year of the new record minimum sea ice in the Antarctica. Future Machine had already told the story of ‘rain where once there was snow and ice’ – but I hadn’t realised as John King from the British Antarctic Survey and I composed this story that the year was turning red (for record minimum) on the graph.

When I did a workshop at the Lakes School I didn’t know this. We looked at the graphs and talked about the changes in the Antarctic and the changes in the Lake District where the school is, close to the lake and Troutbeck, the river flowing from the valley above to the great lake below, and of course out to sea, Here at the school we discovered there was no direct easy access to the lake or the river to walk a class of 30 children and a large heavy Future Machine to the water. The path that had been accessible to the lake now has a sign marked Private, and Troutbeck (the beck – river) that gives the place it’s name has been closed off by United Utilities. This year we had to be content to walk to the edge of the school’s playing fields and peer over a low dry stone wall at a stream trickling down towards the lake. We also discovered this stream was a matter of conversation amongst the school caretakers who take care to stop rubbish from the playing fields getting into the stream, the lake and then of course down the River Leven, where we had met last year with Future Machine, and out to sea.

The class created felt data maps with me, capturing the moment they had stood outside in the unexpectedly warm, bright sunshine on a late October day and measured the temperature, humidity, light and sound levels and air quality – using their senses as sensors. They combined this with creating maps of the Windermere-Leven watershed, their own observations and thoughts about the past, present and future environment in their locality. This is when one group of students wrote ‘It’s Not Eden But Not The End’.

The same can be said of all the places where Future Machine appeared, throughout the year 2022.

Next came Finsbury Park in London as we also started a residency hosted by Furtherfield (‘we’ being the London hub of When the Future Comes – Rachel, Esi, Alex, Dave and of course Future Machine). Trees had fallen in the spring storms and one fell from drunk people entering the park at night and using them as a toilet. Much has been done to increase tree planting in the park by the dedicated team of volunteers with Friends of Finsbury Park and Ricard, the park’s wonderful head ranger, but problems persist. Here the difficulties run deep. The future of the art hub in the corner is uncertain and as we work together with Furtherfield, Friends of Finsbury Park, the Art Club, Weeds and Seeds and Alex’s Drumming School students we are discovering layers of history. We are trying to hold on tight to our little corner of the park that has great potential to develop into a truly inclusive eco-art space. Yet we constantly feel on the back foot and hope this isn’t too little (with our limited resources) and too late. Talk of the much needed regeneration of the area in front of Finsbury Park tube, might lead to yet more fancy flats being built where the bowling alley has been since I was a young girl. These bring fears that our corner will be turned into gardens for the flats, or a nice view for the rich buyers of the flats that wont want an eco-art community hub in their sights, but we remain steadfast in our residency. Alex continues to grow his drumming courses, as we also hope to grow trees and a garden around the Commons in the Spring.

At the same time in Nottingham, news comes that the council there has finally received funding to do work to improve Christ Church Gardens. After a clean up consultation event attended by Frank and another local person a decision was made to tidy the shrubs and plants. To our dismay Frank’s next visit revealed ground zero. All life was removed from the gardens other than the trees and grass. Again we are on the back foot and the places that we hold as familiar, sacred and important feel increasingly hard to protect. These are stories of change, but often stories of loss and disconnection. How can change bring us closer to these places, not leaving us outside looking in as the life within them is lost?

After consultation with Primary, it turns out replanting and a new playground for Ronald Street will begin in the spring – with a wildflower meadow. Rebecca Beinart from Primary has done a great job to negotiate an opportunity to replant the rose garden in the centre and faciltiate Martin’s idea (local resident, guardian photographer and ladybird expert) to create an accessible sensory planting area along the wall. At the moment the gardens look devastating and we wait with bated breath to see what if anything has survived the diggers. We hope the ladybirds, birds and bats aren’t lost. Excitement is returning at the thought of new planting in the Spring and something regenerative happening in our small memorial gardens, when Future Machine returns with the cherry blossoms, alongside this years surprise guest. We plan the return from ground zero as winter turns to spring.

The wayfaring continues. Next, to Peppard as winter turns to spring and the flooded, muddy, Wyfold Lane remerges as the Lesser Celandine’s appear. We hope the storms don’t come again to Oxfordshire as they did last year – one after the other as we hoped to celebrate Celandine Day. Our planning to celebrate and then come together with Future Machine close to the Spring Equinox in March has begun and I look forward to meeting the people of Peppard and this year, if Covid is relatively under control, wayfaring with Future Machine, Juliet and whoever joins us to the Unicorn for a celebratory drink to welcome the spring.

2023 will hopefully bring Future Machine finally to Cannington in Somerset, in July. In March Caroline is planting a Rowan Tree and saplings for hedging at Cannington Primary School, following on from our visit to the school last year. We will return to the school in July with Future Machine, with Caroline’s Cannington Bell created at the frequency of the tree she planted in Cannington as a child (when she attended Cannington Primary School), that we measured when we visited last year. We will walk with the children and Future Machine to see how the Rowan Tree has fared, hopefully seeing it in full green leaved summer glory – and the children will be able to speak to the future.

The messages people left for the future in 2022 are somehow deeper and more inspiring than previous years. I am not sure if this is because the ritual of Future Machine appearing, the myths are growing around what it is and why it appears in each place or if 2022 was particularly a year of deep reflection for many people. We hope to be able to do more research this year around the messages and what they might tell us about people’s response to change and uncertainty ‘when the future comes’.

Then to Cumbria again, and back to London for the Autumn.

This year, 2023, we are focusing on the myths around Future Machine. We hope to build a coherent story of the places where it appears and the journey between them. The shared stories of change, loss, connection, disconnection and togetherness. Also the stories of uniqueness, the specificity of the localities and neighbourhood relations, what makes these places unique and what brings them together.

We plan to build a new artwork to exhibit in each place as Future Machine appears. A container for the stories, to connect the dots and bring the entanglements between each place, Future Machine and the people and ecologies of the places together. A Cabinet of Curious Places.

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